There are few things I enjoy more than the Christmas season. Family gathered together, showering loved ones with gifts while also getting a few of your own, eating far too much food, and the annual tradition of Illinois beating Missouri in the Bud Light Braggin’ Rights game.
Since its inception, Illinois has hammered away at this rivalry, leading 25-12, while currently on a five-game winning streak. To say Illinois has dominated the Tigers would be simply too light.
Illinois has owned the Tigers and it has not been close.
Yet, for posterity sake, what should Illini fans, and players alike, look out for as they prepare to battle it out in the beautiful city of St. Louis?
Watch Out For The Hot Team
The non-conference schedule in college basketball can, at times, be a joke. Yet, when it comes down to brass tacks, what matters are wins. Currently, Missouri is riding a four-game winning streak. With wins over UCF, UT Arlington, Oral Roberts, and a Xavier team the Illini could not put away, Missouri is riding high entering this matchup.
College basketball, and its subsequent outcomes, can often times come down to who is more in the groove. Winning four straight by an average of double digits can make a team feel pretty good. Illinois will need to jump ahead early and make sure to punch Missouri in the mouth and keep them off balance in order to gain an advantage.
Former Illini Mark Smith has more than doubled his points per game and nearly quadrupled his rebounds per game in his first year in Columbia. While averaging 13.5 PPG over his last two, Smith has experienced a bit of a revival under Cuonzo Martin and has quickly become one of the most used Tigers game after game. In fact, he only trails fellow guard Jordan Geist in minutes per game.
The Illini faithful will be sure to give Smith an earful any time he touches the ball, as should be expected.
Oh Look, Another Former Illinois Commit At Missouri
Jeremiah Tilmon, who spurned Illinois before his freshman $ea$on, has been the leading rebounder for Missouri in 2018. With 6.6 rebounds per game, the sophomore forward has been working the glass well for Missouri. What remains to be seen, however, is the points per game output that made him one of the top recruits in the region.
While only averaging 11 points per game in 2017-18, Tilmon has left much to be desired offensively for the Tigers. Could he continue his strong play after netting 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in his last game against Xavier?
Statistics Tell The Story, Don’t They?
I really don’t know where else to go from here. Statistically, Illinois preforms better in almost every major category. Points per game (76 to 67.5), assists per game (15.2 to 10.7), steals per game (7.9 to 5.4), and they narrowly edge Missouri in field goal percentage.
Yet, the stat that Missouri leads in may be the most important one, and that is wins. Illinois, in my opinion, is not indicative of its 4-7 record. Illinois has played one of the toughest schedules to date in college basketball, and despite near wins against Gonzaga and Notre Dame coupled with should-have-won games against Georgetown and Xavier, Illinois could have had an entire different prognosis on their season to date. I firmly believe these teams match up far better than their records may indicate.
Winners of five straight, you would be an absolute fool to think I’m picking against my team. Not. Gonna. Happen.
I believe Illinois makes it six straight and continue to turn this season around with a convincing 89-70 victory in front of all twelve Missouri fans that actually bought tickets.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!